How Music Facilitated Nationalism in the Past and
How Music Can Facilitate Nationalism Today
by Kelly Gawne
Music can influence human psychology and sociology to facilitate nationalism. “[T]he essential building blocks of national identity are undoubtedly cultural ones.” This is true because a group of people’s shared cultural experiences, including music creation and appreciation, unify that group as a separate part of the larger world. The resulting sense of unity can make the members of the group desire the formation of a nation.
While a nation is being built, neutral songs can become connected with a group’s political ideas. These songs further the group’s identity and propel it forward toward the desire of nationhood. These formative songs are the focus of this paper. After a national identity is formed, members of that nation will express their national identity overtly in music by means of national anthems and songs. National anthems denote a successful nation, and are the end result of the process of nation-building.
Part I of this paper discusses national identity and its changeability, the properties of music, and music’s interplay with nationalism. Part II examines the connection of music and nationalism in case studies of individual countries. In the case studies, different properties of music, including lyrical content, harmony, melody, and rhythm, play varying roles in eliciting nationalist ideas. The case studies include: how Italy’s unification was promoted by opera music; how Hitler’s regime used martial music to unify Catholics and Protestants in Germany; how Serbian leaders used music to promote Serb national identity and distract the people while atrocities took place nearby; how Russian political leaders supported or denounced music depending on the music’s political implications; how the Irish used music to publicize their cause and desire for a unified Ireland; and how Czechoslovakian leaders encouraged musicians to write national music as they built their own new nation.
The Conclusion will discuss how political leaders today can use music to bring people together because music has worked to unify individuals in the past. A musical program could be one part of a nation’s larger plan for promoting nationalism.
Part I. How Music Influences Nationalism
In this section, the concepts of “state” and “nation” will be distinguished. Some of the case studies are about nations that are not yet states. Also, the terms “national identity” and “nationalism” will be defined. Second, the ability of national identity to change will be discussed. This is important because political leaders can influence national identity if it is not static. Third, the special properties of music that make it accessible to many people and therefore, especially good at promoting nationalism, will be discussed. Finally, the way that music and nationalism connect will be explored.
A. State vs. Nation, National Identity, and Nationalism
A state is distinguishable from a nation. A state includes “public institutions, differentiated from, and autonomous of, other social institutions and exercising a monopoly of coercion and extraction within a given territory.” These institutions are usually part of a government.
By contrast, a nation “signifies a cultural and political bond, uniting in a single political community all who share [a] historic culture and homeland.”A national identity is multi-dimensional. According to the scholar Anthony Smith:
“…the fundamental features of national identity [are] as follows: 1. [a] historic territory, or homeland; 2. common myths and historical memories; 3. a common, mass public culture; 4. common legal rights and duties for all members; 5. a common economy with territorial mobility for its members.”
Therefore, Smith defines a nation “as a named human population sharing an historic territory, common myths and historical memories, a mass, public culture, a common economy and common legal rights and duties for all members.” “[N]ational identity comprises both a political identity as well as a cultural one. This is significant because it means that any attempt to forge a national identity is also a political action with political consequences…”
Nationalism is “an ideological movement for attaining and maintaining autonomy, unity and identity on behalf of a population deemed by some of its members to constitute an actual or potential ‘nation.’” This paper is concerned with the role of music as part of a group’s national identity and their nationalist movement.
B. Changeability of National Identity and Nation-Building
A group’s national identity is multi-faceted, and different elements are present depending on which different groups the individuals participate in. National identity is always changeable because individuals join and leave groups throughout life. “[T]he self is composed of multiple identities and roles – familial, territorial, class, religious, ethnic and gender… each of these identities is based on social classifications that may be modified or even abolished.” Groups differ in terms of their exclusivity and the demands the groups place on their members. Also, within those groups, the individuals have both similarities and differences which are subject to change.
The changeability of national identity and nationalism means that conflict among groups within a nation may be overcome. Even successful nations contain groups that have differences and disagreements, proving that a common ground may be reached where the nation’s members agree “to overlook the differences and view the similarities as essential.”
The changeability of national identity means that nations can be built. Nation-building includes “state-building combined with national integration and mobilization; this too requires the formation of a national culture and political identity that clearly differentiates it from its neighbors.” This paper focuses on music’s role in the forming of a national culture.
C. Properties of Music
Music is made up of sounds, and “sounds are always effects; effects of the clash, the impact and resistance, of the forces of nature.” Since sound expresses both the present and suggests what will happen in the future, with sounds and music, “there is [an aura of indeterminateness and uncertainty – all conditions favorable to intense emotional stir.” Sounds can express emotions directly. “Sound can be “threatening, whining, soothing, depressing, fierce, [or] tender…” Since the ideas and emotions represented in music are so accessible, music can be better at engaging more of the general population than other mediums of art. Music’s accessibility makes it an especially useful medium for conveying nationalist ideas to a large population.
D. Music’s Interplay with Nationalism
Music operates “‘as part of the political arena- not simply as one of its more trivial reflections.’” “Since the mid-nineteenth century, a country’s music has become a political ideology by stressing national characteristics, appearing as a representative of the nation, and everywhere confirming the national principle.” Powerful individuals in society are able to influence cultural production, which in turn influences the cultural preferences of the larger population, which eventually defines the nation. Therefore, political elites can use music to influence the larger population. However, when the elites of a nation consciously seek to exercise such influence, they should not allow the population to know what they are doing “because national identity is… ‘conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.’” If questioned, the elites should only say that the shared culture is an “expression of an already existing unity.”
Scholar Peter Stamtov argues that music can become connected to nationalism by interpretive activism. In interpretive activism, audiences impose political meaning on art performances by displaying affiliation or disaffiliation with the performances. The nationalist ideas in music may not be explicit. Instead, the ideas emerge through an interaction among the piece of music, the context, and the individual who acts as the interpretive activist. The interpretive activist can be a professional arts reviewer, a political activist, or a regular individual imposing his views on a peer group.
Individuals can affiliate with a piece of music by attending the performance, engaging in applause, or discussing it with friends. Individuals can disaffiliate by booing, walking out of a performance, or not attending at all. Outside of attending a performance, individuals can affiliate with music by singing it, performing it themselves, or playing recordings of it. Conversely, individuals can disaffiliate with music by not doing so.
II. Case Studies
A. How Verdi’s Operas Helped
Italian opera furthered
the unification of
In the mid-1800s,
the country today known as
2. Ernani & Italian Unification
During this time, Guiseppe Verdi was a composer of some of the most widely performed Italian operas. Verdi “believed wholeheartedly that each nation should cultivate its native music.” Because of the nationalist ideas connected with his operas, Verdi has been called “one of the unifying forces in the life of a new nation.”
Scholar Peter Stamtov argues that Verdi’s operas became linked to nationalism by interpretive activism. For example, around 1844, a new and popular pope, Pius IX, had been elected. The pope headed the Catholic Church, but also ruled the Italian Papal states during that time. Many people hoped that Pope Pius IX would become the new leader of a unified Italian state.
desire for unification became connected with Verdi’s opera Ernani, Stamtov notes.
In the finale of Ernani, Carlo Mango
has just been elected Emperor of the
3. The Chorus, Nabucco & Unification
The chorus was a new and important feature of opera that began in the 19th century. The chorus represented “‘the people’ as a mass – exactly what the drama of liberalism required – their voices organized, as only music could organize them, into sustained, unified, and commanding utterance that expressed their identity, independence, unity, and importance.” Importantly, in the midst of political turmoil, the chorus could be used to produce “new images of order and legitimacy… [by] presenting images that defined nations from the bottom up, defined them by the rootedness of a people in their land.”
In Verdi’s opera Nabucco, the chorus embodied group unity
which the Italians related to. The song “Va pensiero” is about oppressed
Hebrews longing for their homeland. In Nabucco,
the chorus, rather than an individual, sings “Va pensiero,” which “sonically
embod[ies] the political solidarity of a nation.” Italians could relate to that song because
“they found a symbol of their own longing for reunification with Lombardy,
which was occupied by
B. Germany and Hitler’s Unification of Catholics & Protestants
Music has long been an integral aspect of German identity. Germans view the hymns of Martin Luther and others, the compositions of J. S. Bach, and German Christmas carols as being inherently German music. In the early twentieth century, Adolf Hitler and his regime used the music of Bach, new religious music, and martial music to unify German Catholics and Protestants. In the martial music, melody and rhythm were important in motivating the German soldiers and helped to create a feeling of unity among them.
the early 20th century,
“First, Germans used sacred music
to express their self-image as a people of God and a Volk unified militarily at arms. Secondly, sacred music was a way
to voice the concept of a nation that extended beyond its physical borders, its
people allegedly rent asunder by cruel international forces. And finally,
sacred music helped project the image of a
Hitler’s regime needed the shared art of music to attempt to unify the Protestants and Catholics because of the distrust. “[R]ivalries and hostilities ran deep; mutual suspicions shaped social, political, and economic interactions.” The music of Bach was suggested to “transcend ‘all theological and church political conflict to reach a place untouched by the confessional and ideological struggles of our day.’” Others pointed to nondenominational Christian marching songs as a way to unify the two groups.
While trying to unify the groups, Hitler’s regime attempted to eradicate Jewish words (i.e. hallelujah, Hosanna) and melodies from Protestant and Catholic music, however, “because sacred music was so deeply rooted in church as well as secular music traditions, attempts to tamper with it met with stubborn opposition.” Many Germans simply ignored the changes and bans and continued to play the traditional songs as written with the Jewish words. Recognizing this, the regime began to create new music that did not have Jewish words and melodies. “Most of the hymns they published in the 1930s and early 1940s featured ‘manly’ martial rhythms and lyrics about ‘blood fresh as the soil,’ ‘dead soldiers,’ ‘Germany’s Heil,’ ‘holy war,’ and the like.”
with martial characteristics, which both Catholics and Protestants could enjoy,
were also used at Hitler’s annual political rallies at
C. Serbia, World War I, and Turbo Folk
nationalism have been connected in
1. World War I & Tamo Daleko
the war, music played a role in Serbian national identity.
“Patriotic songs celebrating the trials, tribulations and victories
song that captures these features of Serbian music is “Tamo Daleko” (“Over
there, far away”).
Tamo Daleko is about a father and son who fought for
2. Turmoil in the 1990’s & Turbo Folk
Slobodan Milosevic ruled
played a large role in creating this image.
During the 1990’s a new genre of music appeared in
D. Russian Leaders’ Endorsement & Denunciation of Music
1. Mikhail Glinka
nationalism have been connected in
The Ivan Susanin opera was sponsored by the
Susanin, the hero of the play, is a peasant who defends
Glinka used folk songs,
but adapted them by “changing the harmonies, placing the song in different
voices, or contriving effective countermelodies, all of which gave variety to
repeated melodic material.” Glinka’s
use of melodies from Russian folk songs evoked feelings of Russian national
identity for the Russian audience. Also, the theme and lyrics of Ivan Susanin, which involve fighting for
2. Dmitri Shostakovich
In the 20th
century, the political climate in
During Stalin’s time, the Soviet government became concerned with musical arts. “[M]usic that was not topical and celebratory of the revolutionary ideology and its heroes and did not reflect the experience of the working classes through a ‘socialist realism’ that was accessible to them” was denounced as “formalist.” In 1932, the Soviet Government created a Union of Soviet Composers, whose role “was to regulate all musical endeavors for its own narrow political ends.” Soviet composers were required to obey exacting rules about the types of music they composed. “The works had to be direct, easily understood, optimistic, and rousing – in a word, Socialist. The USC ruled that the use of folk song and dance was to be encouraged, while ‘modernism’ of any kind was banned.” Those who produced acceptable compositions were “generously rewarded with money, dachas [(country estates)], and privileges.”
Musical creations had to meet Stalin’s standards. Acceptable
music was music that would be widely appreciated by peasants and aristocrats
employed a member of the USC, Andrei Zhdanov, whose role was to evaluate
In the 1930-40s, Dmitri Shostakovich, born and
educated in the
Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth, although initially
well received by audiences, was denounced in a
E. Ireland’s Rebel Music
For the Irish, music
was widely used to express nationalism, especially in the nineteenth century.
Lyrics played an important role in promoting the Irish rebellion against
In the Act of
Union in 1802,
In 1916 on Easter Monday, Irish rebels carried out a
plan to take over important buildings in
2. The Gaelic League & Feis Chieol
In the late nineteenth century, the focus of some Irish people on nationalist political developments sparked others to focus on Irish cultural arts. An organization called the Gaelic League was created in 1893. The purpose of the League was to promote Irish values through the preservation and revival of Irish language, music, and dance. “[T]raditional music, song, step dance, and participatory dance were considered essential recreations ‘to sweeten the pill’ of language learning and to bring people together into a community.”
Gaelic League thought a recreation of ancient Gaelic festivals would promote
Irish music, and in 1895, a Music Festival Association was created.
In 1897, a musical competition with prizes called the Feis Cheoil was organized
by the MFA in
3. Irish Rebel Music
During the nineteenth century, Irish people were also making music in the context of other organizations. “[M]usic became a conduit for this growing sense of identity… not ony as a source of cultural regeneration but as a means of nourishing that impulse towards autonomy which is the distinctive feature of any nation oppressed...”
Both Northern and Southern Irish people created rebel music. “In the South a subversive culture of religion, language, music and rebel songs, became established; “The Soldier’s Song” written by Peader Kearney in 1907, and sung, among others, in the lulls between the fighting at Easter 1916 became the national anthem.” The melody in “The Soldier’s Song” is exciting and hopeful. The lyrics are nationalist: “Soldiers are we/ Whose lives are pledged to Ireland/… No more our ancient sire land/ Shall shelter the despot or the slave/Tonight we man the gap of danger/ In Erin’s cause, come woe or weal/ ‘Mid cannon’s roar and rifle’s peal/ We’ll chant a soldier’s song.”
In the North, a group called the Young Irelanders, whose
goal was to have the Act of
“Did they dare, did they dare, to slay Eoghan Ruadh O’Neill?
Yes, they slew with poison him they feared to meet with steel.
May God wither up their hearts! May their blood cease to flow,
May they walk in living death, who poisoned Eoghan Ruadh.
Though it break my heart to hear, say again the bitter words.
But the weapon of the Sassanach met him on his way.
And he died at Cloch Uachtar, upon
In the 1840’s,
F. Czech Language & Music
The leaders of
2. Bedrich Smetana
Bedrich Smetana was one of the first nationalist Czech composers whose works were performed in the Provisional Theater. Smetana’s nationalism is shown by his “choice of national subjects for program music and operas, and in [his] generous use of folklike tunes and popular dance rhythms.” Smetana’s works are said to have “evoked the great past of the country, its people, aroused their consciousness, [and] their desire for freedom and independence…”
In January of
1866, Smetana’s first nationalist opera, The
Brandenburgers in Bohemia, was performed in
Smetana’s Bartered Bride and The Kiss also have nationalist elements of folk melodies. The Czech people were “obsessed” by the Bartered Bride while it was produced at the Provisional Theatre. Smetana used themes of romantic love, which were well received. Smetana used “authentic folk music” for the opening chorus. Smetana’s symphonic poem, My Country, was said to have “reassured the strong and encouraged the desperate.”
3. Antonin Dvorak
Antonin Dvorak was
another popular nationalist Czech composer of the nineteenth century. He
incorporated Czech folk music into his compositions. “For example, the slow
movements of Dvorak’s string quartet and Eb op. 51, and his Piano Quartet, Op.
81, are based on the melancholic folk ballad, the dumka. The shifting accents of the fiery Bohemian dance the furiant dominate the scherzo of the
Nationalist elements are also in Dvorak’s Slavonic Rhapsodies.
Life in rural
A. Case Studies
The case studies show that music can be used to express national identity and facilitate nationalism. In the case studies, some properties of music, including lyrical content, harmony, melody, and rhythm, played stronger roles than others in eliciting nationalist feelings.
In Italian opera, language
and the lyrical content were most important because the words facilitated a
shared language, which led to separate states becoming a unified
For the Irish, music
was widely used to express nationalism. Lyrics played an important role in promoting
the Irish rebellion against
Finally, the leaders
B. How Political Leaders & Musicians Can Use Music Today
As has been done
in the past, political leaders can use musical arts to encourage group unity. A
shared interest in music can create a common bond among people. Political
leaders today could sponsor nationalist music, as Russian leaders did with
money and gifts. Political leaders could also arrange musical competitions with
prizes, which proved to be successful in both
In creating nationalist
music, musicians can use what has worked in the past, as shown in these case
studies. Lyrical content, harmony, melody, and rhythm can all be used to convey
nationalist ideas. If possible, musicians should incorporate folk elements, as was
successful with Irish and Czech music. If possible, the lyrics should be
optimistic and suggest a happy future, as Turbo Folk fans in
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